The First International Conference Focusing on the Global Human Rights Problem of Wrongful Conviction
In April of 2011, the Innocence Network and the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law will host the first-ever conference dedicated to exploring the phenomenon of wrongful conviction of the innocent in the international arena. This groundbreaking event will take place at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati, a beautiful facility on the Ohio River dedicated to promoting freedom around the world and telling the stories of freedom’s heroes. The objective of the conference will be to bring selected scholars, lawyers and exonerees from around the world together in one place to interact and learn from one another. The hope is that the conference will galvanize the innocence movement into a unified international human rights movement.
The Innocence Movement
In the United States, more than 240 inmates have been proven by DNA testing to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. When non-DNA cases are considered, nearly 500 wrongful convictions of the factually innocent have been identified in the U.S. in the past two decades alone. But the phenomenon of wrongful conviction is by no means limited to the United States. More than 80 countries have struggled with public claims of wrongful conviction, and high profile exonerations have stirred outcries for reform in countries from England and Norway to China and South Korea.
Much of the work necessary to free the wrongfully convicted has been performed by members of the Innocence Network. These projects, including The Innocence Project and other state-specific Innocence Projects, first emerged in the United States in the 1980s and proliferated across the country in the past two decades. In recent years, projects pursuing postconviction innocence claims have formed in several countries outside of the United States, with scholars and lawyers across the globe becoming increasingly more interested in exploring this movement to learn how to better tackle the problem of wrongful conviction in their own countries.
In conjunction with the conference, the University of Cincinnati Law Review will publish a symposium issue. Included will be articles by scholars from around the world that address both the problem and the causes of wrongful conviction in their home country, how their legal systems handle or fail to grapple with the problem, and what other legal systems can learn from their successes and failures. Authors will present their scholarly papers at the conference. Commitments to participate have already been made by scholars from numerous countries, including Norway, Japan, Canada, Australia, and China, among others. The Innocence Network is working hard to ensure that scholars and/or lawyers from geographically and culturally diverse countries are able to participate in the conference.
Artistic Expression of Actual Innocence
In connection with the conference, the Freedom Center Journal, will publish a special issue dedicated solely to essays, poetry and visual art created by exonerees, as well as letters from prison written by inmates who were later exonerated or who claim innocence. The Freedom Center Journal is a scholarly publication of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and the Freedom Center. Efforts to collect these materials are already well underway. If funds permit, an exhibit dedicated to these artistic expressions of freedom will be created for the conference at the Freedom Center or another local venue.
The Innocence Network
The Innocence Network is an affiliation of organizations around the world dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, while working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions. Most members of the Innocence Network are non-profit organizations typically affiliated with universities (but not necessarily so), that serve to reinvestigate cases of alleged innocence and wrongful conviction. When innocence is demonstrated through DNA testing or other investigative means (often performed by students), Innocence Network projects litigate the cases in court to achieve the innocent inmates’ exonerations and freedom.
Original cover art by Shonto Begay.